They call me Daniella. When I first arrived and tried to introduce myself as Danielle they looked at me with a bit of confusion. “That’s a boy’s name they said,” in traditional bluntility. So for four months I have become Daniella. When I introduce myself now I pronounce the ‘a’ without thinking. I love the way it rolls off the tongue with an added touch of grace of rhythmic melody. Its absence will leave a little ache in my heart. So if anyone wants to call me Daniella when I come home, go right ahead. I will probably one: not notice the difference in the sense that it will be so familiar I won’t look at you strangely or two: emit a sigh of happy reminiscence of India.
They call me other names too.
Acca or Didi means older sister in either Telugu or Hindi. It’s a mixed term of respect and endearment. I’ve learned to say it back to women I work with day by day.
In the slums and when I am giving tution (tutoring) I am Teacher. The vehicle will pull up to the village and the children will come running. “Teacher, Teacher, they exclaim breathlessly, their eyes filled with excitement. It’s easy to be a teacher in India. Sometimes they look at me so trustingly that if I told them I hung the moon in the sky they might believe me.
The children and teachers at another school call me Madam. “Good morning, Madam,” their voices greet me every time I arrive. “How are you Madam?” “Had your breakfast Madam?” I might protest at the title, but then I have to realize that it’s their way of loving me. So I learn to love it too.
My young piano student calls me Auntie. Her feet race across the broken rocky ground of the campus when she sees me. “When are you coming, Auntie?” is her relentless question. Monday, I tell her and always have to fend off puppy-dog eyes and requests for me to come sooner.
There are so many names and each one carries a wealth of experiences and faces with it’s calling. I shall miss them so much. It makes me think of how names carry our identity. These sounds represent who I am to the people of India and who they have become to me. I have other names too, names from other countries, other friends, names that will only make sense to me and the people who gave them.
Names are important. As I face my goodbyes I draw comfort from knowing that no matter how many people come to love me or welcome me into their lives, only one opinion ultimately determines my identity. God has called me by name. So I listen for his voice—quiet, assuring—knowing that it will not change when the rhythms of my earthly name do. When all is changing round me I cry out, “Abba, tell me who I am again. Remind me. Carry me like a child all caught up in your arms, your head bent over, whispering in my ear the entire way.”